Can you tell me more about the chil­dren’s clothes seen in this fam­ily photo?

Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - QUESTIONS & ANSWERS -

QThis photo of my great grand­mother Mary McKenna and her sib­lings in Lan­cashire was prob­a­bly taken just be­fore 1900. Could the chil­dren be dressed up for a wed­ding or to cel­e­brate an event in the Catholic cal­en­dar? My aunt men­tioned some­thing about the ‘ Whit Walk’. Linda Fransham, by email

AThis is a very evoca­tive pho­to­graph and I think your date of around 1900 is prob­a­bly right. Your sug­ges­tions as to its rea­son would also seem most likely. The Whit Walk and hol­i­day was, and still is, an im­por­tant cel­e­bra­tion in the north-west of Eng­land. The tra­di­tion started in the early 19th cen­tury and is a ma­jor part of the Chris­tian cal­en­dar for all de­nom­i­na­tions. The Catholic Whit Walk was fo­cused around chil­dren, who would march as mem­bers of their parish day school.

Both the flow­ers and the style of cloth­ing were in­flu­enced by wed­ding fash­ions of the time. Child at­ten­dants had be­come fash­ion­able for wed­dings from the 1880s on­wards. It is there­fore quite dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish be­tween the two oc­ca­sions, al­though I would err on the side of the Whit Walk. Par­tic­i­pa­tion in, and dress for, Whit Walks be­came an im­por­tant in­di­ca­tor of sta­tus for work­ing-class fam­i­lies by the late-19th cen­tury.

The ex­pense of pro­vid­ing spe­cial clothes for the event showed that the fam­ily was man­ag­ing well and this may have been summed up in this pho­to­graph.

Ali­son To­plis

Boys’ out­fits Small boys could also be elab­o­rately dressed up for Whit­sun or wed­dings in pseudo-18th- cen­tury dress.

Flow­ers The flo­ral sprays held by the chil­dren are very sim­i­lar to fash­ion­able wed­ding flow­ers of the time.

Head­gear and footwear The pho­to­graph is most likely to have been taken on the oc­ca­sion of a Whit Walk due to the chil­dren’s non-white head­gear and footwear.

Whit Walk cloth­ing The cloth­ing was white – it was tra­di­tional to buy new cloth­ing for Whit­sun.

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